Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday rejected calls from several U.S. lawmakers for his resignation, saying he will "carry on" at the helm of the United Nations for the next two years.
Five Republicans in the House of Representative on Monday backed a call last week by a GOP senator for Annan to resign amid allegations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program. But outside the United States, there is no clamor for the secretary-general's resignation, and he has picked up support from many of the 191 U.N. member states.
While President Bush refused to back Annan last week, his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave him a strong endorsement Monday, saying he is doing "a fine job ... often in very difficult circumstances," and the French and Spanish leaders telephoned their support Tuesday.
Annan said he plans to concentrate on reform of the United Nations in the last two years of his term, a process that began last week with the release of a report by a high-level panel that analyzed global threats and made 101 recommendations on how to tackle them.
"I have quite a lot of work to do and I'm carrying on with my work," Annan said when asked when he would respond to those calling for his resignation. "We have a major agenda next year, and the year ahead, trying to reform this organization. So we'll carry on."
Asked if he was definitely saying he would not resign, Annan replied: "I think you heard my answer."
Several U.S. newspapers and columnists have called for Annan to be replaced because of the oil-for-food allegations, but it was remarks by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that made headlines last week. Coleman, who is leading one of five U.S. congressional investigations into the accusations, said Annan presided over the "greatest fraud and theft" in U.N. history.
At a news conference Monday, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said the question shouldn't be whether Annan remains in charge. "The question is whether he should be in jail," he said.
But Blair and others defended Annan.
"I have had the occasion to be grateful for his leadership on many occasions," Blair said in London, "and I very much hope that he is allowed to get on with his job ... without criticism that I think, if people analyze it for a moment, they will see that it is unfair."
The oil-for-food program began in 1996 to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Saddam's government to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided most of the proceeds went to buy food, medicine and humanitarian goods and to compensate victims of the 1991 Gulf War.
The program was created by the U.N. Security Council and monitored by the council committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq. The U.N. Secretariat, headed by Annan, ran the program.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that Coleman chairs said it had uncovered evidence that Saddam's government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions and the oil-for-food program.
The secretary-general has appointed former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker to head an independent inquiry into the program, handing over all U.N. documents and ordering U.N. officials to cooperate.